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When to Give up the Blanket

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GROWING CONCERNS: A childrearing question-and-answer column with Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota.

Question:

Our five-year-old son, who just started kindergarten, is outgoing and confident during the day, but at night he still likes to take his old "blankie" to bed with him. My husband teases him about it, saying, "Look at the big baby!" Should we push him to give up the blanket? And, if not, how can I get my husband to lay off on the teasing?

Answer:

Your son sounds like a well-adjusted five-year-old, eagerly going off to school and then coming home for a good night's rest. What possible harm can come from sleeping with his cozy old "blankie"? Kids today are surrounded with stressful, frightening images and they're often expected to grow up too fast. In my opinion, kids today need and deserve all the comfort they can get. Besides, how many of us adults come home at the end of the day and put on our favorite old sweatsuit or flannel shirt, not just for physical comfort but because the familiar feeling gives us psychological comfort? And how many of us sleep best in our favorite pajamas or under the fluffy comforter we've had for years? When you think about it, that's not all that different form the comfort your son derives from his old blanket.

That said, your concern about your husband's teasing of your son is right on target. That kind of ridicule is a recipe for trouble. I would urge you to make time to talk with your husband privately about this. Encourage him to think about the situation from your son's perspective. Beyond helping your husband understand your son's legitimate need for comfort, encourage him to think about the effect of this pattern of teasing. You might begin by asking him what kind of relationship he hopes to have with his son over the next few years. Teasing and ridicule provoke shame and anger, certainly not the ingredients of a respectful, loving father-son relationship.

I wonder if your husband is passing on messages he learned in childhood--messages like, "Be tough, be strong, don't cry, don't be soft or dependent." He may need a nudge to realize that even the strongest men (and women) need comfort. Think, for example, of all the soldiers who have carried something from home when they have gone off to battle.

For your son, maybe the feel of that old blanket triggers warm memories of the security he felt when you and your husband used to rock him to sleep. And that probably helps him be so confident and outgoing when he goes off to school each morning. I say, more power to him! We all should have a "blankie" to give us those feelings at the end of a busy day.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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